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Bengals cling to half-time lead

10-27-02, 3 p.m.


The team the Bengals thought they had this season showed up Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium and posted a 14-0 lead on the Titans in the first 1:20 of the second quarter and took their first half-time lead in 10 games dating back to last season, 14-6.

The Titans crawled back into the game with running back Eddie George trading punches with Bengals running back Corey Dillon. Dillon took the early rounds with 76 yards on 15 carries, but George gashed the Bengals for 69 yards on 12 carries later in the half to give Tennessee two red-zone opportunities.

But the Bengals held Tennessee's NFL-best red-zone offense (the Titans had scored touchdowns 74 percent of the time) to two Joe Nedney field goals. The last one came with 1:04 left in the first half after the Bengals stopped a third-and three when the refs pick up a flag on cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn defending wide receiver Kevin Dyson in the end zone.

Kaesviharn came into the game in the second quarter when Jeff Burris re-aggravated a hamstring pull he suffered last week in practice, and his return in the second half was questionable.

Dillon's four-yard touchdown run that gave the Bengals the 14-point lead typified their early aggressive play. It was Dillon's 11th carry of the day for 68 yards and came courtesy of former Titans fullback Lorenzo Neal's assembly-line blocks on middle linebacker Frank Chamberlin (playing for the injured Randall Godfrey) and strong safety Tank Williams. The play capped a 10-play, 89-yard drive that got jump started on wide receiver Chad Johnson's 24-yard diving catch behind cornerback Andre Dyson on third-and-two from the Bengals 19.

Johnson solidified his role as the Bengals' go-to-guy with 64 yards on his first four catches. Three came on

third down, like the first one that went for 17 yards in front of cornerback Samari Rolle on third-and-three and kept the first touchdown drive alive.

Kitna hit six of his first seven passes in the touchdown drives, but the Bengals' offense cooled for much of the second quarter and he finished 7 of 12 for 84 yards.

The Bengals hadn't scored an offensive touchdown in the first quarter all season, but got one when Kitna pulled a play-action fake and hit Neal on a one-yard touchdown pass.

The Bengals used one of those penalties that has plagued them all season to score that touchdown.

And then they pulled off one of those defensive plays that's been missing all year to keep a lead they had for just 2:30 of the previous six games.

Facing a third-and-eight on the game's first drive, the Bengals got a break when the Titans were called for having too many men on the field. Kitna found Johnson for 17 yards and a first down.

Johnson got loose again for a 13-yard catch and Dillon set them up with a 24-yard burst off left tackle that he cut outside when Neal pulled out the artillery and crushed Williams, on a lead block.

George ripped through the Bengals on his first series for 37 yards, but he fumbled at the end of a 12-yard run when cornerback Artrell Hawkins and rookie strong safety Marquand Manuel combined to jar the ball loose at the Bengals 15, where it was recovered by defensive end Bernard Whittington.

It was just the second fumble the Cincinnati defense has recovered this year.

The Titans took advantage of two 15-yard face-mask penalties on each of their field-goal drives. Linebacker Canute Curtis got the first one on fullback Mike Green, but he came back to pressure Titans quarterback Steve McNair on a third-and-two from the Bengals 15 to force Nedney's field goal from 33 yards.

Then on third-and-four from the Bengals 24, Hawkins had McNair caught on a blitz, but grabbed his facemask in the process.

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